“The future ain’t what it used to be” is a glum aphorism that can be attributed to Yogi Berra or Paul Valéry according to your pretension. In Anna North’s debut novel, America Pacifica, the future is exactly what it always is. The eponymous island is a microcosm of the United States abandoned as the rest of the world is swallowed by ice. Most of the inhabitants are desperately poor and hungry, while a reclusive dictator and his corporate cronies eat steak and strawberries behind razor-wired walls. The elections are fixed, nothing really works, and life is nasty, brutish and short for most in ways that would have given Thomas Hobbes nightmares.
Naturally, our heroine – spunky 17-year-old waitress Darcy Pern – comes of age on a quest after her mother disappears. She discovers her mother’s secrets are those buried in the foundations of this not-so-brave not-really-new world. Of course, she becomes involved in a conspiracy to overthrow the old order that may not bring much of an improvement.
A wearily predictable plot isn’t necessarily a disadvantage, but failing to do anything interesting with it is. America Pacifica is too much like its setting: a ramshackle collection of parts that’s too familiar and fails to become a satisfying whole.
Perhaps it’s unfair to judge North’s debut against Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (2007), another novel set on an island where nothing is quite what it appears to be. Both can write, and endearingly own their debts to popular fiction. But, as things stand, North hasn’t managed to integrate genre influence and literary themes with Chabon’s confidence and sense of serious play.
AMERICA PACIFICA, by Anna North (Virago, $36.99).